Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

10 Things to Know Before You Buy a Billboard Ad

In a world of online streaming and saturation ads, the ungainly billboard might seem an unlikely candidate for a comeback.

And yet marketing specialists say those oversized signs can bring an impressive return on investment for businesses ranging from law offices to lawn care.

“Billboards are everywhere, and even though we remember just a handful, they can still have a powerful branding impact,” says this source.

Billboards – like ads on buses, cabs and roadside benches – fall into the category of out-of-home (OOH) advertising. Back in the day, OOH advertising was static, unchanging and susceptible to the ravages of wind and rain. No longer. Digital technology lets advertisers vary the content and measure the results.

“More and more of these OOH tactics, including billboards, are digitized,” says another expert. “And not just digital – they are better integrated into a larger branding strategy. Digital billboards offer the ability to rotate your images and update them as often as you like. And for marketing, it’s all about cross-channel. Your Facebook ads should match your business cards and your billboards for that critical brand awareness.”

The best billboard ads not only attract attention, but they make news. Take, for example, this safe-driving billboard for the Colorado State Patrol. It’s eye-catching and memorable, and it generated local news coverage, which extended its reach even further.

10 Rules for Billboard (and Other) Advertising

Here are 10 rules for billboard advertising, some of which holds true for more conventional ads as well.

  1. No need for a Call to Action. Billboards are a secondary advertising medium. Their purpose is to build a brand, support a campaign and attract attention. While it doesn’t hurt to include your telephone number or website on the sign, don’t expect to get an immediate response. Do this through direct mail, print and TV advertising, social media and flyers.
  2. Six words, six seconds. “Six seconds has been touted as the industry average for reading a billboard,” writes ad expert Paul Suggett. “Considering we’re on the move when we read billboards, we don’t have a lot of time to take them in. Around six words is all you should use to get the message across. You can push this to a few more words depending on length and ease of reading, but as a rule of thumb, less is more.”
  3. It’s not about you. Avoid the temptation to put your mugshot on the billboard - unless there’s some compelling reason to do it.
  4. Make it interesting. The idea is to attract attention. A boring display filled with lines of text and clip-art graphics won’t cut it.
  5. Diversify your strategy. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Billboards should complement – and enhance – your website, online ads and conventional marketing efforts.
  6. Smart, not snarky. “A smart billboard will grab the attention and leave a lasting impression. You don’t want to make people scratch their heads and wonder what is going on. Complex visual metaphors are no good. Be smart, have fun, but don’t give people puzzles that Einstein would have trouble solving.”
  7. Repetition brings results. A key to advertising is frequency. The more ads you put out there, the more eyeballs will see them. The billboard industry uses a Gross Ratings Points (GRP) scale (from 1 to 100) to measure effectiveness. It’s based on traffic, visibility, location, size and other variables. A score of 50 means 50 percent of the local population would see your billboard at least once a day.
  8. Target your audience. “Know who you’re speaking to, and speak to them in the right tone,” says Reola. “Narrow your focus and you’ll make more sales.”
  9. Show, don’t tell. If one picture is worth a thousand words, then on a billboard – or any display advertising, for that matter – that same image might be worth a million. As the Colorado State Patrol billboard demonstrates, powerful images linger in the mind far longer than words alone.
  10. Follow the rules. In North Carolina, Rules 7.1 and 7.2 of the Rules of Professional Conduct set out what you can and cannot do in advertising.

Have you used billboard advertising for your law practice? Please share your experience.

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About the Author

Jay Reeves

jay.reeves@ymail.com | 919-619-2441

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. Over the course of his 35-year career he was a solo practitioner, corporate lawyer, legal editor, Legal Aid staff attorney and insurance risk manager. Today he helps lawyers and firms put more mojo in their practice through marketing, work-life balance and reclaiming passion for what they do. He is available for consultations, retreats and presentations.

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